Swedes beat Imperialists in play test of Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Adam, Chris, and Jamie came over for a play test of Tilly’s Very Bad Day. It was a good quick game, with considerable spectacle. There were lots of troops, and, yay. I’ve finally got my Thirty Years War forces on table. Although it was a reasonable game, we did come up with quite a long list of observations, suggestions, and tweaks to the rules. By the way, the Swedes beat the Imperialists.


Version of Tilly’s Very Bad Day

Tilly’s Very Bad Day is available for Download (PDF) and currently at Version 1.1. However, we were play testing a pre-production version. This game was pivotal and resulted in many changes to the rules that made their way into the published version


Deployment

The draft rules recommended a 4′ x 3′ table. So we expanded this out to a 4′ x 4′ table because, well, that is what it was. But I was nervous given the size of the armies. It seemed a small table. In fact the players were also nervous about troop density. None-the-less we went with 4’x 4′ as a play test.

Both sides had 25 units divided into four commands: left, centre, right, and reserve.

Tilly-64 Table and Deployment

Tilly-64 Table and Deployment

The photo above shows our measuring sticks; rods with alternating brass an aluminium segments 40mm long (1 TUM). They are visible here because we used them to delineate the neutral zone (8 TUM) and player deployment zones. Hence the kind of “H” shape in the middle. We removed them once the game began.

Jamie and I were the Imperialists. I took the left cavalry wing and the cavalry reserve. He had the infantry centre and the mixed infantry and cavalry right wing.

Tilly-65 Imperialist Deployment

Tilly-65 Imperialist Deployment

I had both cuirassier and harquebusier units but in the basic rules there is no difference.

Tilly-70 Imperialist Harquebusiers

Tilly-70 Imperialist Harquebusiers

Chris and Adam played the Swedes. They matched our deployment, but had more cavalry on the cavalry wing and less troops to dispute the rough ground.

Tilly-66 Swedish deployment

Tilly-66 Swedish deployment

Both sides had put masses of cavalry on the open flank. And the cavalry of both sides was deployed in two lines.

Tilly-72 Massed cavalry battle is inevitable

Tilly-72 Massed cavalry battle is inevitable

The Swedes had a lot of cavalry on their right wing. Nine units of horse with more in the nearby reserve.

Tilly-67 Massed Swedish Horse

Tilly-67 Massed Swedish Horse

I had less horse on the open wing.

Tilly-71 Imperialist Left Wing Horse

Tilly-71 Imperialist Left Wing Horse

The Swedish centre was infantry but, unusually for the period, the pike+shot units were deployed in line rather than chequerboard.

Tilly-68 Swedish Centre

Tilly-68 Swedish Centre


The Battle

Tilly’s Very Bad Day plays fast. Of course the neutral zone between the armies is 8 TUM (4 base widths) and movement rates (6 TUM for cavalry and 3 TUM for infantry) mean troops travel across it fast. Particularly if both sides are moving. Cavalry can and did charge on turn 1. Infantry took a bit longer.

The first casualty was the unit of cannons from the Imperialist left wing. They scored a hit on the charging Swedes but were automatically routed on contact.

Tilly-73 Swedish horse charge the guns

Tilly-73 Swedish horse charge the guns

The front lines of the two cavalry forces crunched together on turn 1. The Swedes had four units to my three. Both sides had a general in the front rank.

Tilly-74 Crunchy cavalry battle

Tilly-74 Crunchy cavalry battle

Chris accused me of inventing a “bucket of dice game”. From my perspective, of course, this isn’t true. There are no more dice than Crossfire uses i.e. 2d6, 3d6 or 4d6 being common. Anyway, this came up because the Swedes threw well, on four dice, and routed an Imperialist unit of horse.

Tilly-75 Swedish rout Imperialist Horse

Tilly-75 Swedish rout Imperialist Horse

The contest wasn’t one sided, however, and more horse units routed on both sides.

Tilly-76 Mutual destruction

Tilly-76 Mutual destruction

The interesting moment was when the Swedish right wing cavalry general died in melee.

Tilly-77 And Swedish general dies

Tilly-77 And Swedish general dies

We applied the morale collapse immediately. Every surviving unit in the command with the dead general lost one resolve. We quite liked the game effect however Adam suggested this should happen at the end of melee, not during.

Tilly-78 Swedish command loses resolve

Tilly-78 Swedish command loses resolve

Even with the initial loses this was a big old cavalry battle. By this stage Adam was suggesting the battle should be quicker. The initial winner should win. I wasn’t convinced. I believe cavalry battles were more fluid and covered more ground, and even units going backwards and forwards. So for me the problem was that the current struggle look like an infantry fight.

Tilly-79 Still lots of cavalry in action

Tilly-79 Still lots of cavalry in action

As the cavalry battle raged the Imperialist infantry got within musket range. I allow units to shoot to the side and this is particularly apt for pike+shot units with sleeves of shot.

Tilly-80 Imperialist foot starting to fire

Tilly-80 Imperialist foot starting to fire

The next rout was Swedish.

Tilly-82 More Swedish horse rout

Tilly-82 More Swedish horse rout

And the next few …

Tilly-83 And another Swedish horse routs

Tilly-83 And another Swedish horse routs

Tilly-84 Wow a trend

Tilly-84 Wow a trend

Tilly-85 and again

Tilly-85 and again

The infantry lines were still a long way apart. Again that seemed a bit wrong. A bit too much like DBM or Field of Glory where the infantry never clashed. Something to think about.

Tilly-86 Infantry are still far apart

Tilly-86 Infantry are still far apart

With their right wing cavalry in distress, the Swedes sent in their reserves.

Tilly-87 Swedish reserve joining the fray

Tilly-87 Swedish reserve joining the fray

And still the infantry hadn’t reached each other.

Tilly-89 Infantry still haven't joined the action

Tilly-89 Infantry still haven’t joined the action

An Imperialist Harquebusier unit (horse of the shooty variety) routed.

Tilly-90 Swedes rout Harquebusiers

Tilly-90 Swedes rout Harquebusiers

And just to prove my regular opponents actually exist …

Tilly-91 Jamie - Adam - Chris

Tilly-91 Jamie – Adam – Chris

Another Swedish horse unit routed.

Tilly-92 Another Swedish horse gone

Tilly-92 Another Swedish horse gone

And an Imperialist …

Tilly-93 And another Imperialist horse

Tilly-93 And another Imperialist horse

Finally the foot came into contact. But it already felt like the end of the battle.

Tilly-95 Foot finally clash

Tilly-95 Foot finally clash

The Swedes managed to kill the Imperialist infantry general in the centre in melee.

Tilly-96 Oops Imperialist General dies

Tilly-96 Oops Imperialist General dies

The last fight of the game was in the rough ground. This was meant as a side show but ended up deciding the battle. The Swedish shot out an Imperialist unit and took the battle.

Tilly-97 Skirmish in the rough ground

Tilly-97 Skirmish in the rough ground

And that was the end of the game.

Tilly-98 End game

Tilly-98 End game


Observations and conclusions

We liked quite a lot about the game:

  • the game and would play it again
  • the fast play
  • the look
  • resolve as a concept
  • resolve as the single attribute used in a variety of contexts (melee, shooting, command check)
  • Sequence of play with Attacker move, Defender shoot, defender move, attacker shoot. At least Jamie liked it.

But, being a fairly draft set of rules, were were a lot of less positive observations and many, many suggestions.

General suggestions:

  • Less “chrome”. Jamie thought the draft of the rules he had read 4 days earlier was clean and elegant. But by the time we played the rules included “chrome”, which I took to mean unnecessary bits. I said I’d review but soooo hard to cut anything. (And, in truth, I completely failed to do this.)

Suggestions for game set up:

  • Bigger table: With 26 units a side on a 4’ x 4’ table (30 TUM x 30 TUM), the battle was tight. Wall to wall troops. Visually it would have looked better on a 6’x4’ table (45 TUM x 30 TUM) with flank empty but open to on table flank marches.
  • Deployment: (1) Alternating commands starting with defender (excluding cannons) followed by, after all others, (2) alternating Cannons starting with defender

Suggestions for movement:

  • Need rules to cover what to do with commanders who get in the way e.g. move them out of the way
  • Need rules to cover what to do when a unit is already within 1 TUM of enemy. We ruled that such a unit cannot go closer. Suggest measure “closest distance” (the distance to the closest enemy at the time), then can move in the normal way except at the end of movement no enemy unit can be closer than the previously measured “closest distance”.
  • Somehow get the infantry into contact faster. In our game the wings fought to resolution but the infantry didn’t really contact before it was game over.
  • Clarify interpenetration, even if none
  • What about a zone of control (ZOC) to prevent units wandering across the front of enemy?

Suggestions for shoot

  • Leave cannons ineffective. Jamie found cannon to be ineffective in the play test. Which was true. Adam and I both thought this was pretty realistic for the period. It took sustained bombardment for cannon of the period to have an impact. In our game they only got to shoot a couple of times.
  • Give infantry in chequerboard an advantage over infantry in line. At the moment the line get the numbers shooting advantage. Historically infantry commands did not form line, but had big gaps and second lines filling the gaps. There has to be game advantage for this. Hmmm.

Suggestions for charge:

  • Clarity on who can charge who when e.g. Attacker charges to contact a unit and from their final position they are in charge reach of a defender unit; can the defender charge? Answer = No. Might introduce charge declarations before charge moves
  • React to greatest threat, meaning closest to straight ahead. This is any enemy to front and the closest of those. If there are no enemy to front then the enemy which requires the smallest wheel and straight ahead move to reach.
  • Reduce the total move (currently move + charge).
    • Either do away with charge and charges happen in move
    • Or reduce charge distance to 3 TUM, which I had in an earlier draft. The implication is that you have to be inside musket range to be able to charge. At the moment you can charge from outside musket range.

Suggestions for melee

  • Make commanders harder to kill e.g. rather than re-roll hits, just roll 1d6 regardless of hits. Casualty on a 6 or 5-6 depending on whether the attached unit routed.
  • Make infantry more resilient compared to cavalry. Currently both are resolve 3. Suggest pike+shot start with resolve 4.
  • Clarify who chooses order of melee. Our Attacker C-in-C assumed this privilege but that seemed lop sided. (I’m considering giving choice to the side who has most units charging this turn)
  • do something about the ebb and flow of cavalry battles. The specific grievance was our big cavalry battle was reminiscent of an stodgy infantry battle with a lot of blood on both sides. Consider
    1. melee winner loses less resolve; I’m less keen about this because separately we have a suggestion to regain resolve when routing enemy, which I think is a cleaner mechanism);
    2. cavalry fall back and can interpenetrate other cavalry, assuming the wheel to the side is happening at a lower level; I prefer this one, it also hints at a way to handle caracole

Suggestions for resolve:

  • Clarify when combat effects happen e.g. immediately hence can affect subsequent combats or later. In particular commander casualty
  • Rally lost resolve. Two mechanisms: (1) general rally one resolve from an attached unit each turn; and (2) recover a lost resolve from one unit involved in routing an enemy unit. I really, really like these suggestions. Make more resolve more of a thing and addresses important morale considerations in a super simple fashion.

12 comments to Swedes beat Imperialists in play test of Tilly’s Very Bad Day

  • Richard L

    Steven

    You question the edge-to-edge arrangement of bases. It certainly looks very DBX-ish. Could you simply enforce leaving some manoeuvre room between units?

    Richard

    • Steven Thomas

      I prefer rules to “encourage” historical behaviour rather than “enforce”. Our discussions on touching bases continue and came to the fore in a game this week. Two examples with different implications:
      – cavalry bases touching and in column (historical) and
      – infantry bases not touching as in chequerboard (historical).

      I’ll post about it in due course. The summary was the cavalry thing was awkward, but we decided the rules are fine as it; we are just too used to DBA (indoctrinated). The chequerboard v line thing wasn’t fine, line currently beats chequerboard, but we’re toying with some ideas.

  • John Rohde

    Tentative suggestions:

    One advantage of leaving gaps between units would be that they can wheel without interpenetrating their neighbour. They would be able to exploit the rout of enemy units from a line by wheeling onto flanks in a way that a unit in closed up line could not/

    Another advantage could be if there were a freshness or first fire advantage to encourage holding back a fresh second line to pass through the intervals of the first. Those musketeers aren’t carrying much ammunition.

    I do wonder if the gaps weren’t also in part due to the way infantry manoeuvred, with files closing up to their flanks rather than filling in by halving each file and bringing it forward in the Hellenistic fashion. Iirc Noseworthy says something about this. I should look it up.

    • Steven Thomas

      Good points John.

      In the other recent game I mentioned, we also realised that gaps enabled manoeuvre. And our DBA thinking was constraining us (in DBA groups move together so a column or lines moves as a group). Once we realised our DBA filter was limiting us then we started seeing possibilities that did not exist before.

      Gaps were infantry to for several reasons, manoeuvre, mutual support, a hole for front ranks to withdraw (or rout) through, and make the entire infantry formation more resilient as a parts could break without breaking the whole.

  • John Rohde

    Some further thoughts:
    The second bullet point re interpenetration, “The units must line up so the sides of the two units are aligned” discourages checker board deployment.
    Would it be possible to have half width bases for commanded shot units of Resolve one, to support horse?

    • Steven Thomas

      We only allowed cavalry to interpenetrate in version 1.0. This is a high level attempt to simulate the left wheel and retire that cavalry squadrons did when they rallied back after shooting or a charge. Adam convinced me that was happening at the lower level and at the higher level an interpenetration would do the job. It assumes there are gaps between squadrons inside the unit on table. (Cavalry squadrons are tiny in this game.)

      You can, of course, do anything you want with commanded shot in your games. if you think smaller bases is a better simulation then go for it … and let me know how it plays out. Giving commanded shot lower resolve, without changing the base size, is entirely in keeping with the published rules (although I don’t say it anywhere – note to self to correct). If you give commanded shot smaller bases then you should also consider giving horse smaller bases, after all they were interspersed.

      For myself, I wanted a simple approach to commanded shot. Actually I wanted a simple approach to more or less everything. And I wanted something that was appropriate for the scale of the game; 50-100 musketeers are not a thing in Tilly’s Very Bad Day; units are 1000-2000 infantry. Ultimately the rules have to ensure a wing with commanded shot will be slower and more fragile than a wing with horse only.

      I considered several options: combined horse and shot units (move like infantry, melee like cavalry, no charge bonus, shoot like cavalry), small shot units (as you suggest), putting a shot unit behind a horse unit, and probably others. All of these are to simulate lots of small shot units interspersed between squadrons of horse (also small). But I rejected all of them because all of that happens at a lower level of granularity of the game system.

      For me the simplest solution was use the same mechanism for all detached shot regardless of the purpose. Hence the rules as they are, which I think achieves the game effect I’m looking for (slow and fragile wing). Of course I lose some of the low level simulation to achieve that simplicity.

  • So cavalry fights don’t look like infantry: if one side scores more hits but doesn’t break break the enemy, the loser should fall back a half or full move and the winner follow up. That will mix the thing up. Maybe on ties both sides fall back. Makes a second line very useful.

    As for the infantry not closing, hmm. Maybe increase infantry speed but only allow straight ahead? These ideas are off the top of my head and not thought out.

    • Steven Thomas

      Thanks for the suggestions Vincent. The rule that made it into version 1 of Tilly’s Very Bad Day is that cavalry that lose a melee rally back 2 or 3 TUM. Made all the difference in later play tests. Cavalry fights look like cavalry fights. Much more fluid.

      It also slowed cavalry fights so the infantry now get a chance to close. I’m no longer worried about that.

  • John Rohde

    One way to encourage checkerboard formations of infantry could be to give some sort of first fire bonus or having fired penalty to infantry units. A line of units at full base intervals coul draw the fire of half the units in a solid enemy line as only one die, using up their bonus. Maye first fire hits on 5,6 but that would increase lethality.
    Returning fire could be compulsary but needn’t be.
    If infantry units couldn’t interpenetrate, a checkerboard formation would be rewarded.
    If units could only recover Resolve when they haven’t been in melee or shot at, there would be a reason to withdraw front lines – though I’m not sure that happened.
    Is it worth representing deep, caracolling cavalry formations? It wasn’t done much in the TYW and when it had been done, was done within units. That said, I think it’s a good idea for cavalry to interpenetrate – not surethey should have to be precisely one behind the other as successive lines were common when combined formations of caracollers weren’t.
    Artillery being routed at contact is quick and simple but doesn’t allow an historical Luetzen. FoGR had huge problems with trying to represent that effect, so maybe a place for a house rule.

  • “Maybe some sort of bonus for support to the rear and side?”

    Or penalize the lack thereof. That was something I found refreshing about Twilight. It assumed rear support and penalized those without any.

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